The city of Santa Barbara’s unofficial kick-off to its 2030 General Plan update got underway Tuesday with the city council’s approval of the Upper State Street Study Report. The 2030 General Plan update - named “Plan Santa Barbara” - will focus on the future growth and development in the city. But while the city had initially planned to focus on the 2030 plan, it became clear to city officials and staff that more immediate steps had to be taken for the State Street corridor.
Councilmembers received input from dozens of developers, architects and other community members during a four-and-a-half hour meeting on the urban design, transportation issues and the longer-term future facing the State Street area beginning at the street’s intersection with Calle Laureles and continuing to where it meets the Calle Real and Highway 101. Public speakers commented on a range of ideas contained in the study report, including setback modifications for businesses, a dedicated transit lane added onto each side of the street, street medians, and parking.
Many goals, such as underground parking in the corridor, were embraced by the council, which agreed the aesthetic value and management of space were important. Plans for a Whole Foods grocery store and redesign of the Sandman Hotel - two of the larger projects waiting in the wings for the corridor - both have underground parking elements.
Although the study is a traffic study, councilmembers stressed the need to include affordable and workforce housing in the discussion, as people not being able to afford to live in the area contribute to traffic. The area provides a special opportunity to put a dent in the affordable housing crisis, said Steve Amerikaner, an attorney and the president of the Coastal Housing Coalition. To not address housing would be “to leave off an enormous element,” Councilmember Iya Falcone said.
The council also encouraged staff to look at a plan specific to La Cumbre Plaza, as it is the largest amount of private space along the corridor. “If we don’t look at La Cumbre, we missed some opportunities there,” Councilmember Roger Horton said. Joe Andrulaitis of the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Institute of Architects recommended some of the vast parking at the plaza be converted into park. Councilmembers agreed the connection from the neighborhoods to State Street was “critically important,” as Councilmember Brian Barnwell put it, and recommended paseos be used to accomplish the connection. Street lights, medians and crosswalks were all discussed as ways to improve both vehicle and pedestrian circulation as well.
Many speakers spoke positively about the transit corridor - which, in the longer term set of improvements, would add a third, dedicated lane added onto each side of the street for vehicles like buses. Councilmembers, however, were uncertain. In connection, the council asked the city staff to continue to study a variable versus average street setback approach for properties.
Also on the list was how the city can deal with an increasing car population, even though the population is steady or even decreasing in Santa Barbara. Only two intersections along the corridor exceed the city’s traffic congestion standard, while most were below a service level C - an average grade. Service level C is congested and intolerable for Santa Barbara, said traffic supervisor Rob Dayton. “In Los Angeles that would be okay. In Santa Barbara, that is not okay.”